The essence of being a magician, as Quentin learns to define it, could easily serve as a thumbnail description of Grossman’s...

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THE MAGICIAN'S LAND

From the The Magicians Trilogy series , Vol. 3

Deeply satisfying finale to the best-selling fantasy trilogy (The Magicians, 2009; The Magician King, 2011).

After being dethroned and exiled from the magical kingdom of Fillory for helping his friend Julia become a demigoddess, Quentin returns to Earth to teach at his alma mater, Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. But when his student Plum stumbles across the school’s resident malevolent demon, which Quentin refuses to kill because it was once his lover Alice, they’re both thrown out and forced to take a risky freelance magic job. This involves stealing a suitcase that once belonged to Plum’s great-grandfather Rupert, one of the five Chatwin siblings whose adventures in Fillory were the subject of best-selling books Plum thinks are fictional—until she opens the suitcase to find Rupert’s memoirs. They fill in some blanks about what really happened to the Chatwins in Fillory and provide clues that will help Quentin’s old comrades Eliot and Janet, still ruling over Fillory, who have been warned by the ram-god Ember that the land is slowly dying. As in the previous novels, Grossman captures the magic of fantasy books cherished in youth and repurposes it to decidedly adult ends. He slyly alludes to the Harry Potter series and owes a clear debt to J.K. Rowling’s great action scenes, though his characters’ magical battles have a bravura all their own. But his deepest engagement remains with C.S. Lewis, as Narnia is the obvious prototype for Fillory; the philosophical conclusion Grossman draws from his land’s narrowly averted apocalypse is the exact opposite of that offered in Lewis’ overbearing Christian allegory. Human emotions and desires balance unearthly powers, especially in the drama of Alice’s painful return. A beautiful scene in Fillory’s Drowned Garden reconnects Quentin with the innocent, dreaming boy he once was yet affirms the value of the chastened grown-up he has become.

The essence of being a magician, as Quentin learns to define it, could easily serve as a thumbnail description of Grossman’s art: “the power to enchant the world.”

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-670-01567-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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